It’s been 31 years since the first Chocolate Festival was held. In 1988, Tim and Tina Carter became the new owners of the Intervale Nordic Learning Center operating at New England Inn. The next year, Tim decided to expand the network, but he needed help. He asked local inn owners to help him get landowner permissions, develop trails, and “loan” money for an extensive trail network that connected local inns, restaurants and businesses from Intervale to North Conway. With their support, the Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring Association was formed.

To promote this new network along with the inns, restaurants and businesses involved, Tim created the first Chocolate Festival in 1989 to raise money and awareness for the venture. His idea was to have the participating businesses create chocolate concoctions to entice skiers to ski from one stop on the tour to another. A festival ticket guaranteed access to all kinds of sweet delights.

The money raised helped support the Mount Washington Valley Ski Foundation operations. The tour also highlighted the trail system and businesses supporting it. For all these reasons, the festival was a success.

In the mid '90s, my daughter and her friend decided to ski the whole tour. We had brownies at Ragged Mountain, chocolate cake at 1785 and fondue at Stonehurst Manor. I’m sure we also had cocoa and candy along the way. By the end of the tour, we were tired and had chocolate-covered insides. It was a fun way to raise money for MWVSTF, get a lot of exercise and satisfy our sweet teeth.

On Sunday, Feb. 23, you can experience all this by signing up for the 31st annual Chocolate Festival. Advance purchase tickets are only $30 per person. You order them online at tinyurl.com/urq7g22, and pick them up on Feb. 22 or 23 at the MWVSTF Touring Center at Ragged Mountain Equipment on Route 16 in Intervale. You can also purchase them that Sunday for $35 per person at the Touring Center, Whitaker House Meeting House in North Conway’s Whitaker Woods or at any other trailside chocolate stop.

Festival participants can ski, snowshoe or drive to over a dozen locations in the network to sample chocolate treats. According to MWVSTF’s website, the total distance on trails is 15K unless you take the shuttle from Ragged Mountain Equipment to 1785 Inn. That cuts the distance down to 9K.

MWVST’s complimentary yellow school bus shuttles operate from noon-5 p.m., with stops at Stonehurst Manor, Riverside B&B, Touring Center at Ragged Mountain Equipment, 1785 Inn, Adventure Suites, John H. Fuller School parking lot next to Whitaker Woods and Eastern Inns.

Since parking is limited at many of the stops, taking the bus seems the best way to go if you’re not trekking the whole distance.

For more information about the tour, consult tinyurl.com/s4auznt. There you’ll find a festival map of all the stops, lodging package offers at MWVST’s lodging partners and where to get ski or snowshoe rentals. You’ll find directions on how to purchase tickets online or at participating stops. In addition to serving chocolate treats, some locations are also offering food and beverages for sale for those that “might want something that is not too sweet!” Check out that website for up-to-date information about the “sweetest day on the trails.”

Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation maintains 45K of trails, 40K of them groomed. Maintaining a trail network that goes from Intervale to North Conway is complicated. It involves the cooperation of many private landowners and the Town of Conway which owns Whitaker Woods. You also need the support of all the local businesses and lodging establishments who form your commercial membership base. Daily and annual memberships (trail passes) in the Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring Club contribute to the operating costs. Fundraising events like the annual Chocolate Festival help bring in more needed revenue to support the trails.

Why does a non-profit organization like MWVSTF need money? Running a ski touring and snowshoe center costs a lot of money. Besides funds needed for grooming, there are other expenses: trail maintenance, signage, equipment maintenance, marketing and staff time. It’s not easy to pay the bills. That’s why MWVSTF uses the chocolate tour as a major fundraiser.

Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Foundation also gives back to the community by working with other non-profit ski foundations, schools, ski teams and clubs and other Valley organizations to establish “an integrated use and management policy.”

The touring center provides free grooming in Whitaker Woods for Kennett High School races, Eastern Slope Ski Club events and elementary school ski classes. It offers free cross-country skiing for students in SAU 9 and 13, as well as Special Olympic XC team members, coaches and staff. Conway residents and nonresident taxpayers pay a reduced fee for use of the trail network. Free trail use is available for area nonprofits for fundraising cross-country events.

I’m fortunate to now be a resident of Conway. For a nominal renewal fee, I get a season’s pass and can visit MWVSTF’s trails anytime I want. They are convenient places to take quick ski and snowshoe excursions. For a short workout, I’ll visit Whitaker Woods and piece together up and downhill loops. If I’m in the mood for a long ski tour, I connect Whitaker trails with Intervale trails and skate the flats all the way to Ragged and back.

I discovered Whitaker Woods is a perfect place to take my young grandchildren to ski. There are flat easy trails on one side of the track and more challenging hills on the other side. We play on both. Dog owners, snowshoers and fatbikers out for fresh air and exercise share the trails with us. It’s a great place for everyone to get outside and recreate. We’re lucky to have it!

Whether you like to ski the beautiful Intervale trails by the river or explore the wooded and hilly trails of Whitaker Woods by ski, fat tire or snowshoe with friend Fido, you’ll find trails to meet your skills and desires. On Sunday, Feb. 23, conditions permitting, you can link them all together as you ski or snowshoe to member inns, restaurants and retail establishments during the 31st annual Chocolate Festival tour, the “sweetest day on the trails.” I hope to see you there, supporting the work of MWVSTF and enjoying your chocolate treats.

Upcoming events

Great Glen Trails Bill Koch League Kids’ Ski Program — Sundays, 1:30- 3:30 p.m.

Great Glen Trails Nordic, Snowshoe and Fatbike Meisters Race Series — Tuesdays, through March 10, skiers 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m., snowshoers at 1 p.m. and fatbikes after 3:30 p.m.

Jackson Ski Touring Sliders and Gliders Social Ski —Fridays through March 27, 1-3 p.m.

Jackson Ski Touring Toddlers and Tots Program: Tuesdays, 9:30-11:30 a.m.

Jackson XC Nordic Speed Camp: Tuesday, March 3, 3:30-4:30 p.m., grades 2 and up, timed course.

Special events

MWVST 31st annual Inn-to-Inn Chocolate Fest — Feb. 23, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Great Glen Trails Bill Koch League Festival, Feb. 29-March 1, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

Bretton Woods Mount Washington Cup 10K freestyle race on March 7, and Bretton Woods Nordic Marathon 42K classic race on March 8.

Great Glen Trails Ski, Shoe and Fatbike to the Clouds 10K, March 8.

Jackson Ski Touring’s Long Trail Loppet Freestyle Race on the Hall, Ellis and Kellogg Trails, March 14.

Great Glen Trails Winter Charity Day, March 14, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., make a $25 donation per person to your favorite charity and ski and tube free. Buffet lunch included.

Sally McMurdo is currently a cross-country ski instructor at Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. For almost four decades, she has explored New England’s groomed and ungroomed trails on all kinds of skis.

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